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Published:October 29th, 2006 13:10 EST
NASA Administrator Departs China After 'Rewarding' First Visit

NASA Administrator Departs China After 'Rewarding' First Visit

By SOP newswire

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin returns to the United States today after his landmark visit to China.

"I expected to meet capable, involved, committed, energetic people who are devoted to their country's space program," he said of his get-acquainted visit, "and that's exactly what I saw. They've got very obviously expert people doing the work they are doing, fully the equal of any other country doing these sorts of work, certainly nothing other than to be proud of."

"One of the points I tried to annunciate over and over again to our meetings with various groups of people was to welcome China to the rank of space-faring nations by virtue of their ability to put people into orbit entirely on their own resources. That is a milestone accomplishment and one to be proud of," he said.

Griffin spent his final full day in China in Shanghai, where he had lunch with the city's mayor. He also toured the Chinese Academy of Sciences Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics to review Chinese satellite payload development capabilities. The institute is involved in the development of remote sensing capabilities and Shenzhou spacecraft payloads, as well as infrared detectors and a laser altimeter.

"We've had a fairly good discussion of their first lunar-orbiting spacecraft and its mission," he said. "Today we saw an engineering model of the laser altimeter that will go on that mission. That was a very good discussion and very enjoyable."

"We saw things at a top level," said Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, who accompanied Griffin on his trip. "We saw areas that are interesting to us that I think we'll ask our experts at a lower level to pursue and understand in the future. This trip really accomplished what it was supposed to do which was a kind of get-acquainted overview of the China space activity. Next steps will bring in a little more lower level detail in and more specifics about where we're going."
+ Sept. 27 Shanghai Press Briefing (36 Kb PDF)

NASA Administrator to Grad Students: China Trip Is 'First Step' 

On his second full day in China, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin spoke to some of the country's brightest future researchers during a speech to graduate students at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was accompanied by astronaut Shannon Lucid.

+ Lucid's China Homecoming
+ Administrator Griffin's Itinerary
+ Sept. 25 Press Briefing (48 Kb PDF)

Griffin talked to the students about the evolution of the U.S. space program from one born of competition to one built on cooperation. "The International Space Station set a pattern for cooperative programs to follow," he said. "I believe someday China will be part of that."

Image above: NASA Administrator Michael Griffin (right) with U.S. Ambassador Clark Randt, Jr., before his talk with graduate students from the Chinese Academy of Science. Click to Enlarge Credit: NASA.

Lucid, who performed extensive scientific research on the space shuttle and on Mir, noted that the students in attendance might someday be given an opportunity to design experiments for China's own human space flight program. With that in mind, she offered three tips for designing research programs in space. She told them to remember that what can be accomplished in a short flight, like a space shuttle mission, is different than what can be accomplished on a long duration flight on a space station. She reminded them to make sure they understood their environment, designing experiments not only for microgravity conditions but ones that also took into account increased radiation and other factors. Finally, she encouraged students to utilize astronaut crew members to enhance the outcome of their experiments.

Also Monday, Griffin and his delegation met with China's Minister of Science and Technology, Xu Guanhua, and toured the National Satellite Meterological Center. Griffin told a gathering of news media later in the day that he enjoyed learning about the more "geeky" aspects of the Chinese space program.
"We have seen some very nice things," he said. "We saw a very nice algorithm by which Chinese weather satellite developers correct for the apparent motion of the Earth as a result of minor shifts in the orbit of geostationary spacecraft."

He also talked to reporters about the value of international cooperation in space. "The problems of space flight are difficult, right at the edge of what's technically possible," he said. "One of the things we derive from international cooperative activities is seeing how different nations and different cultures solve these problems. We learn things; they learn things."

"This IS rocket science," he joked.

NASA Administrator Meets Counterpart in China

At Beijing's historic Diaoyutai State Guest House, which dates back 800 years and has played host to hundreds of government leaders, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin met his counterpart Sun Laiyan of the China National Space Administration. The meeting Sunday marked the first visit of a NASA administrator to China. 

Griffin, an engineer by trade with 35 years of aerospace experience, also got a first hand look at some key technical facilities. He visited one of the major development and production facilities for the Chinese space program, the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST), as well as a payload development center, the Center for Space Science and Applied Research (CCSAR) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In his discussions with Sun, Griffin noted his interest in learning more about the Chinese space program.

"One of the most important aspects of our trip," Griffin said, "is the opportunity to gain better transparency and trust."

U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt, Jr., joined Griffin on his first day of tours in China. Randt, who is the longest-serving U.S. ambassador to China, is also an honorary member of the NASA family. His father, Dr. Clark Randt, Sr., served as NASA's first director of Life Sciences from 1959-1961.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin Visits China

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin begins a trip to China this weekend, marking the first time a NASA administrator visits the country.

Griffin is making this visit at the invitation of Laiyan Sun, administrator of the China National Space Administration. His visit runs from Saturday to Thursday and includes stops in Beijing and Shanghai. During his trip, Griffin will tour a number of aerospace facilities.

"My goal is to become acquainted with my counterparts in China and to understand their goals for space exploration," Griffin said.

Senior NASA officials accompanying Griffin to China include Associate Administrator for Space Operations William Gerstenmaier, Assistant Administrator for External Relations Michael O'Brien and NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid, all of whom have extensive experience working with other nations' space programs.